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N.J. Puts Ban On Talking, Texting While Driving

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) - New Jersey motorists yakking on a hand-held cell phone or firing off text messages will soon run a greater risk of getting pulled over by a cop.

Gov. Jon S. Corzine on Friday signed legislation giving police more authority to target drivers using hand-held cell phones, and making it illegal to send text messages while driving -- distractions legislators contend make for risky driving.

The law takes effect March 1.

"We need to remind motorists that they should be paying attention to the road, not chatting or writing messages to their friends," said Assemblyman Paul Moriarty, D-Gloucester, who sponsored the bill.

New Jersey in 2004 made it illegal to talk on a hand-held cell phone while driving, but police could ticket a driver only if stopped for another infraction.

The bill signed by Corzine allows police to ticket any motorist using a hand-held phone while driving.

Only California, Connecticut and New York have such laws, as does Washington, D.C., according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

A recent survey by Nationwide Insurance estimated 73 percent of drivers use cell phones and 20 percent text while driving.

Washington recently became the first state to ban texting while driving.

Violators of the cell phone ban face a $250 fine. The fine for texting while driving is $100.

"Cell phones have become a necessary part of our daily lives," said Assemblyman David Mayer, D-Camden, another sponsor.

"Unfortunately, they also have become a severe driver distraction. The few seconds it takes to send a text or find a phone number could be the difference between a trip around town and a trip to the emergency room."

The Assembly and Senate approved the bills in June, but safety advocates questioned if the measures would prove effective.

David Weinstein of AAA Mid-Atlantic has said that the state needs an encompassing bill that tackles all driving distractions.

"It's not the step forward we hoped for, but it's certainly not a step backward," he said. "New Jersey needs an enforceable, comprehensive driver distraction law and many will see this is a step in that direction."

Jonathan Adkins of the Governors Highway Safety Association said hand-held cell phone bans send a dangerous message to drivers.

"The message that as long as their cell is handsfree, they are safe," he said. "Our position is that all cell phone use is distracting."

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